March 17, 2011
The owner of a brand-new school building in Williamsburg is putting it on the market for $30 million after its tenant, the Williamsburg Charter High School, failed to pay rent.
According to a real estate listing for the property, which sits on Varet Street in East Williamsburg, the charter school needed to enroll over 1,000 students this year in order to cover its annual $2.3 million rent. But the school — one of three managed by the Believe High Schools Network — fell short, enrolling only 850. The listing states that enrollment suffered because of construction delays, which pushed the school’s move-in date back by a year and caused school to begin three weeks late this year.
“Understandably, the delay of the move and of the start of the school year led to some families choosing not to enroll their students after the lottery or to transfer,” wrote Believe High Schools Network spokeswoman Jacqueline Lipson in an email. “We also lowered enrollment for incoming students during that transitional time.”
Like traditional public schools, charter schools receive money based on how many students they enroll, so when Williamsburg Charter lost students, its budget shrank. According to the 2009-10 audits of the Believe network’s three high schools, the network also spent more money per-student than it received from the state.
Charter schools were given about $12,400 per-student from the state last year and Williamsburg Charter spent over $16,000 per-student. It spent more per-student at its two other charter high schools, which are located in a district school in Williamsburg. These two new schools, Believe Northside and Believe Southside, did not take in any private donations, but Williamsburg Charter received $37,000 in philanthropic contributions.
Lipson said Williamsburg Charter will remain in the building next year — the school has signed a 30-year lease.
The school “has an overwhelming amount of preliminary applications and is confident to enroll a sufficient number of students for a profitable next year,” the listing states.
Asked why he was selling the building, owner Paul Grossman said he needed the money. Grossman, who build the Varet Street building for the charter school, would not comment on Believe’s finances.
This is not the first time the Believe network has become entangled in real estate problems. Last summer, we reported that that the city and state education departments were investigating the network for holding classes at a facility that was only approved for factory and office use.
President of the New York Charter Parents Association Mona Davids said the school’s reputation was keeping enrollment down, not construction. Though two of Believe’s high schools opened too recently to have progress reports, Williamsburg Charter got a D on its report last year and a C the year before.
“I think word is starting to get around that it’s not a good school and it’s not a good network,” Davids said. “I guess parents are starting to vote with their feet.”